Penn State to Big Ten Will be Delany's Biggest Legacy
The announcement earlier this week that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will retire in 2020 drew the standard hosanna's from the college community.
They are all deserved. I've known Delany for almost 30 years and he is both a leader and a legend in college athletics.
But it is doubtful if Delany will receive as much warmth in the Northeast since it was the Big Ten's expansion which brought in Penn State in 1993 which affected not only college football in the Northeast, but throughout the entire sport.
""Penn State going to the Big Ten was the most significant event in college football in the last 40 years,'' said former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who had to deal with the after shocks. ""It changed everything, not only in the East, but throughout the country.'
When the official announcement was made 30 years ago--the Nittany Lions did not start play in football in the Big Ten until 1993--Penn State was part of a group of football independents--Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia, Rutgers--who were fine living life in football without conference affiliation.
Big East football was still in the planning stages as an off shoot of Big East basketball. The Big East had a chance to get the Nittany Lions a few years earlier, but couldn't work out the details--a development even Tranghese admits with regret.
By the end of the 1980's, conference expansion was the topic dejour in college football and Penn State was a prize, which Delany focused upon.
Delany, a Jersey guy, who went to college at North Carolina, has always had a master plan as college football has taken step after step towards a full fledged playoff system.
And it always involved what was best for the Big Ten-- I once only half kiddingly asked him if the game of Risk, whose goal is world-wide domination--.was his favorite game as a kid.
The Big Ten flirted with Notre Dame for years. Besides Penn State, Delany had his eyes on schools such as North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Texas, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers--over the years.
He picked off Penn State, Nebraska and then Maryland and then settled for Rutgers after he came up short with North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
More about that later.
But the crown jewel was and is Penn State because it gave the Big Ten a huge footprint in the East.
And what it also did was almost erase college football as a viable entity in the Northeast, although it came in stages.
If the Big Ten had left Penn State, the Big East would have made another serious run at the Nittany Lions when they expanded to Big East football in 1991.
With Penn State as an anchor, Syracuse, Miami and Boston College would be less inclined to go to the Atlantic Coast Conference. West Virginia would also have been an eager participant, as would schools such as Rutgers, Temple and UConn. Virginia Tech might also have been a strong possibility.
That would have changed the profile of the ACC which would have only been sure to get Florida State as an expansion anchor.
The Big Ten would probably have gone after Notre Dame, Texas or Nebraska as its expansion members. The SEC and the Big 12 and even the Pac-12 would have had to use different plans.
Fast forward today and imagine a Power 6 (yes Power 6)
football group which would have looked like this.
Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Boston College, Rutgers, UConn, Miami, Virginia Tech, Temple, Syracuse, UMass and Cincinnati
Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Florida State, UCF, USF, NC State, Clemson and East Carolina
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Arkansas.
The Big Ten
Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Missouri. (Notre Dame would have eventually caved in to football affiliation)
The Big 12
Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, SMU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Houston, TCU
Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington, Washington State, Colorado, Utah.
Six leagues, 72 teams, each with its own geographic center, with its core of power teams , well within its geographic footprint.
8 conference games, 4 non-conference games on a rotating basis among the other Power 6 conferences.
Each conference with its anchor bowl
Pac 12, Big Ten--Rose
Each conference with its own television network
All of that might have been possible, if the Big Ten had stayed away from Michigan.
But it didn't happen because Jim Delany had a plan, which later included not only geographic footprints, but television footprints as well.
It was the reason, Rutgers became a player because Delany wanted another player in the Northeast for television markets. It was a reason why he took a serious look at going into the heart of the ACC and SEC by focusing on Georgia Tech.
That didn't happen either, but Jim Delany has left a footprint on college football that is unlikely to be matched.